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Biden Administration Suspends 'Remain In Mexico' Policy

A photo of a young girl playing by clothes drying on a washline as a woman pretends to play a violin in a courtyard.
Paul Ratje for KERA
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A young girl whose family was placed in the "Remain in Mexico" program plays with a clothesline in the courtyard of the Buen Samaritano Migrant Shelter as Marta Esquivel pretends to play a violin on Sept. 30, 2020, in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. Esquivel has taken care of residents in the shelter since 2018, when more asylum-seeking families began arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The controversial Trump administration policy made asylum seekers wait out their U.S. court proceedings in Mexican border cities like Matamoros and Ciudad Juárez.

The Biden administration will no longer place asylum seekers in the Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP, a Trump-era policy that requires migrants to wait in Mexico as their cases play out in U.S. immigration court.

The Department of Homeland Security announced the change late on Inauguration Day.

Over the past two years, tens of thousands of asylum seekers who arrived at the southern border were given a U.S. court date and then sent back into Mexico, which often forced them into dangerous living conditions as they waited to make their cases. But starting Jan. 21, the federal government will no longer place new people in what came to be known as the “Remain in Mexico” program.

This series profiles asylum-seeking families in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, stuck in legal limbo during a global pandemic.

There is still a question of what will happen to the thousands of migrants already in the program, whose asylum cases are still pending. Their hearings have been postponed indefinitely, due to the coronavirus pandemic, leaving many stranded in shelters and makeshift tents along the border, in a state of legal limbo.

“Current COVID-19 non-essential travel restrictions, both at the border and in the region, remain in place at this time,” DHS said in a statement. “All current MPP participants should remain where they are, pending further information from U.S. government officials.”

Immigration lawyers and advocates have called for officials to allow migrants in MPP into the U.S., to wait out their asylum proceedings with relatives or other sponsors.

While the Biden administration is suspending the “Remain in Mexico program,” a public health order remains in place that allows immigration officials to rapidly expel asylum seekers and other migrants at the border during the pandemic.

Mallory Falk is a corps member with Report For America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms. Got a tip? Email Mallory at Mfalk@kera.org. You can follow Mallory on Twitter @MalloryFalk.

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